Understanding Cellulitis and Lymphedema

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Cellulitis in lymphedema patients is a complication that many of them might have to face at some point in time. The reason for the ailment could be several: a small scratch, a bruise, a cut or an insect bite is enough to trigger an attack of cellulitis.

A nightmare that most lymphedema patients would like to avoid, cellulitis is treated with a strong dose of antibiotics. At times, the patient might need to stay in the hospital for a few days. However, most persons recover fully with the correct treatment. Ignoring the signs of cellulitis seen in lymphedema patients may create complications of a serious nature which may be difficult to treat.

The immune system in lymphedema patients has slowed down and hence they are prone to skin infections like cellulitis which can cause complications due to their delicate state of health. Symptoms include pain in the lymphedema limb, redness of the skin, swelling and fever. Usually the patient would describe flu-like symptoms: fever with accompanying chills. Red spots on the skin are described as erythema while the increased body temperature in hyperthermia. Swollen lymph nodes, loss of appetite, fatigue, irritability, nausea and vomiting may be some of the other symptoms present.

The first signs of cellulitis deserve immediate attention and it may do well to consult the doctor. A course of antibiotics should do the trick; usually the patient will recover fully within 10 days. However, some safeguards must be followed by lymphedema patients while they are being treated for cellulitis. They are not to follow the therapy of massage or manual lymph drainage till such time as the infection clears. Compression garments are to be avoided and the affected appendage should be kept elevated as often as possible.

Lymphedema patients have a weak immune system and cellulitis plays havoc with an already slow lymphatic system. Infections left untreated may spread and cause gangrene, resulting in amputation of the limb or in a worse case scenario, death. The best method to avoid contracting cellulitis is to take all possible care to protect the body. Simple measures to protect the skin like using gloves during household chores and gardening are advisable. Skin care is important; abrasions to the skin should be quickly disinfected and antibiotic cream applied to the wound. Avoiding sunburn and insect bites are some other precautions one can take.

Cellulitis is a bacterial infection which may or may not start in the lymphedema affected limb. Due to a weakened immune system, lymphedema patients need to take extra care and precautions. Lymphedema cannot be cured but only kept in check. Repeated episodes of cellulitis cause further problems in an already weakened body. Good diet, exercise and skin care can help to keep cellulitis in lymphedema patients at bay. In the unfortunate event that the lymphedema patient gets cellulitis, treatment should be started immediately.

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Source by Peter Hodges

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